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JayMac: What do you think is driving the soaring suicide rate?

DISCLAIMER: the following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of KSL Newsradio or its ownership.

The U.S. suicide rate in 2017 was 33% higher than in 1999, new research finds. Utah had the fifth-highest overall suicide rate at 25.2 per 100,000, a 46.5 percent increase in residents taking their own lives since 1999. The research from the CDC noted that America’s suicide rates are at the highest level since World War II. Nearly 45,000 suicides occurred in the U.S. in 2016 — more than twice the number of homicides — making it the 10th leading cause of death.

Yet, in many areas, our lives seem to be getting better. Current crime rates in the U.S. are approximately the same as those of the 1960s  — half a century ago. Drunken driving rates are also down. So are U.S. divorce and teen pregnancy rates.

Why, then, are suicide rates climbing? I think the internet and social media play a big role in suicides.

“The rise of social media and people connecting more online is not a sufficient replacement for face-to-face communication and connection, which is really critical to overall health,” said Kim Myers, Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the Utah Department of Human Services.

A person can isolate themselves in a cyber-cocoon, a kind of self-sequestration. All of the stabilizing forces of interactions with others in the physical world disappear in isolation. Social-media interaction with another is not even close to resembling a real-world conversation with another human on Planet Earth. Think non-verbal cues of communications. You can’t chuckle simultaneously with “a friend” on Facebook. Digital isolation creates more of the same, and before you realize it, you’ve cut yourself from the real, physical world — you know, the place where clouds drift and flowers bloom. And then. . . you believe you’re the only one facing this problem or that trauma.

“When your brain tells you, ‘You’d be better off dead’ that is a sign to get help,” Myers said, just as much as when your arm is broken and dangling, that that is also a sign you need to get help. “We want to create a social norm that the normal thing to do is to get help, to get rid of the stigma around it.”

Fearlessly honest

Trust me, I have been in that place, and I decided there was only one way out. I planned how I was going to do it. The world would be a better place without JayMac in it.

I had done some dumb things. And when my wife and children found out, they wouldn’t stand by me and that would be it. I didn’t want to face it.  But an amazing thing happened; before I could do it, the truth came out. And they stood with me.

Suddenly, I wasn’t fighting it alone; I had people on my side, whom I had thought in my delusion would turn on me.

I know that if you’re in that place, this may seem strange, but the truth is, talking to a stranger can help. As I’ve have shared my story over the years, someone has always reached out to me to say: I’m in that place now; I’m fighting that battle right now.

Just the fact that I texted them back changed everything. They knew, maybe for the first time, that someone outside of themselves cared. I don’t share this to say I’ve done a great thing.  But just one person reaching out to say I know your battle — that is enough to save a life.

If someone you care about is fighting a battle, please, please don’t tell them to pick themselves up, to pull up their bootstraps.

I was that dad. When one of my children said they were struggling, I said, “Pull yourself up, you’re not struggling. Learn how to cope.” I felt horrific, and I would never do it again. I sent a message that I am not available when you need help. But I’ve learned.

Listen, ask questions, take it seriously, be someone who cares, help them find the help they need. If we could just do that, we could save a life.

I want to end by saying if you are in a bad place, pick up the phone because I swear it will make a huge difference. Trust me.

If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK or The Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386.

Jay Mcfarland hosts the JayMac News Show, weekdays from 12:30 to 3 p.m. on KSL Newsradio, as well as the fictional podcast, Hosts of Eden. KSL Newsradio is part of Bonneville Media and based in Salt Lake City, Utah.